Iron and State Formation in South Asia Iron and State Formation in South Asia

By Prabir Purkayastha


The advent of iron has major bearings on any society in multiple ways. Often the metal is addressed as ‘democratic’ as, unlike copper, access to iron is never restricted to certain sections of the society. The metal is found on the surface of the earth and mostly in abundance. The iron age in South Asia spans over a wider time frame, i.e. 11,00 BCE-300 CE roughly. However, the use of iron has different consequences for the peninsular part of South Asia and the Gangetic Valley. In the peninsular part, iron was mostly used for the production of weapons and it corresponds with the conspicuous presence of megalithic burials all across. However, in the Gangetic valley we see a different kind of development. After the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization around 1800 BCE, we see a second urbanization taking place in the Gangetic valley around 600 BCE. Around the same production of tools, and implements in iron can be noticed in the area. We also witness the rise of states and finally the Mauryan Empire in the Gangetic valley. This would have been possible without extraction of surplus by the state. This lecture traces the complex history of clearing the thick tropical forest, beginning of agriculture, urbanization and use of weapons by the state and iron had a crucial role to play.